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Observant hunters avoid baited fields
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Most people want to avoid federal offenses, but Mississippi bird hunters push their luck every year in illegal fields.
Jim Miller, outreach and research professor with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said state and federal wildlife regulations require any field management activities in a field for hunting doves or other migratory birds be within "normal agricultural practices." Grain or seed must be incorporated appropriately into the soil within the proper planting dates.
Violations of these laws can send hunters and landowners to federal court.
"Any grain or substance should be appropriate for that field. For example, harvested corn fields should not contain wheat or milo," Miller said. "Normal planting operations do not include pouring or placing grain in piles. It should be distributed evenly over the seedbed, and most likely incorporated into the soil. Overseeded wheat and ryegrass to provide winter forage for cattle is a normal agricultural practice in some areas, but whenever there is any question about a field, hunters should walk away."
Miller said the lateness of this year's corn crop may prevent hunters from using some of their traditional fields by opening day Sept. 1. The good news is that doves are often attracted to a variety of native grass and weed seeds and land that has been recently harvested.
"The best time to prepare food plots is months before opening day," Miller said. "If landowners are charging for access to a dove field, they need to be extra careful to observe regulations governing baited fields for doves and waterfowl."
Lt. Col. John Collins, assistant chief of law enforcement with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said most violations involving migratory birds end up in federal court, but some may be handled on the state level. The penalty usually increases with commercial hunts or when multiple infractions occur.
"The penalty often depends on the severity of the violation. An unsuspecting hunter who made every effort to determine the field was legal will not usually be penalized. The person or persons responsible for baiting the field could be held accountable for the actions of all the hunters," Collins said. "In extreme cases, the penalty could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even in lesser cases, an appearance in federal court and the fine is often more trouble than the average hunter would want."
Collins said hunters are responsible to know the field's condition, to ask landowners questions and to look at fields before hunting.
"Conservation officers are monitoring dove populations in their area before the season opens, and when they see unusually large concentrations, they investigate the reason," Collins said. "If the doves are attracted to normal agricultural practices, there is no penalty. However, if some sort of baiting has occurred within 10 days of a hunt, those hunters on the field could be ticketed. That is why hunters are expected to ask questions and not just depend on what they see or don't see."
For more information on legal dove hunts, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement website at http://www.le.fws.gov/. Consult area agronomic crops agents with the MSU Extension Service for advice on normal agricultural practices.
Contact: Jim Miller, (662) 325-3174